Wilco are back and they're alright.
Wilco have long been hailed as one of the greatest exponents of Americana music, although this has always seemed to sell the band's output short. Although having a firm grounding in that genre, the past decade has seen the band develop other styles, taking on styles as diverse as Krautrock and folk, all the while serving as a backdrop for Jeff Tweedy's guarded lyrical output. This time around there has been a sea-change in the bands way of working and 'Sky Blue Sky' debuts a more collaborative effort from the act.
What they've gained in the personal touch by all members contributing and from using more direct lyrics; they seem to have lost a bit with regards to the sound. Perhaps it's the production or maybe there was an agreed decision to make the sound clearer to showcase the lyrics but there's a bit of detachment from the music on this album. Wilco records have been pretty inclusive up to now but this time around, the album is taking a lot longer to sink in and to feel as though there is any warmth on it.
There's a lack of engagement on this record, 'Impossible Germany' meanders and noodles but in comparison to 'Spiders (Kidsmoke)' from the last record, it's rudderless and goes nowhere. And when you have a strong back catalogue like Wilco, it's always going to be compared to it and that's unfortunate but it just feels lacking.
The talk from the band was that this was more of a combined effort and again, perhaps with everyone having their say, there has been a dilution on the sounds that made Wilco as loved and respected as they are. This new album has added a lot of different styles and touches that were missing from previous records but it hasn't all been for the greater good. There are flashbacks to a slightly bloated rock swagger; perhaps akin to when The Eagles blew up and the images of Wilco becoming like this is truly terrifying. Who knows, perhaps this is an over-exaggeration from a committed fan who didn't get the type of album he wanted but maybe it just needs more time as there are still good moments here.
'What Light' stands out immediately, coming across like a 1970s Bob Dylan track and perhaps being most similar to the Wilco of old. 'Walken' is an upbeat striding track with a battling guitar solo that would grace any Neil Young but also features one of the best Tweedy melodies on the record, so there are choice moments available here. Opener 'Either Way' has its own quiet charm as well, so you know what, if this album was made by another act, it would score higher as there are good moments.
It's just unfortunate when it's being compared to a history that excels, because a good album will always suffer in comparison to a handful of great albums.